BEAUREGARD, Ala. (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday visited communities in eastern Alabama devastated by tornadoes that tore through homes and businesses, killing 23 people.
Trump and his wife Melania Trump took a helicopter tour of the area before going to the homes of some victims in the tiny and especially hard-hit community of Beauregard, near the border with Georgia.
Their motorcade passed trees knocked down like kindling and homes scattered in pieces.
“This is unbelievable,” Trump said as he and Alabama Governor Kay Ivey surveyed the devastation. He said he had seen “unbelievable” destruction from the air, too.
Relatives of one victim, Marshall Lynn Grimes, showed the president the 59-year-old’s cherished motorcycle vest and Bible. Trump hugged members of the family.
The president and Melania Trump then visited a disaster relief center at the Providence Baptist Church in Opelika, the county seat, to meet with survivors, volunteers, and first responders.
Tables at the church were piled high with donated clothes, toiletries and other items. Twenty-three crosses were set up on a lawn outside.
Trump met privately with more victims’ families inside the church. He said he talked with one woman who lost 10 people in the storm.
“I said how did it go, and she said I lost 10,” Trump said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
He told dozens of community volunteers gathered in the church auditorium that the first responders were doing an “A-plus job.”
“We’re gonna take care,” Trump said. “We couldn’t get here fast enough ... I wanted to come the day it happened.”
He also signed Bibles brought by some of the volunteers.
Sunday’s tornadoes were the deadliest to hit the state since 2013. All 23 victims, including four children and seven members of one family, were killed in or around Beauregard, in rural Lee County about 10 miles (16 km) southeast of Auburn.
Dozens of people were injured and about 100 houses were destroyed by 170 mile-per-hour (264 km-per-hour) winds, officials said.
Mobile homes were tossed over and ripped open, their contents strewn across a landscape littered with debris and uprooted trees. In some places, shreds of houses had hung from the limbs of the few trees left standing.
The worst of the twisters, stirred up by a late-winter “supercell” thunderstorm, were ranked by forecasters at step four of the six-step Enhanced Fujita scale of tornado strength.
It was the greatest loss of life from a tornado since an EF-5 storm ripped through Moore, Oklahoma, in May 2013, killing 24 people and injuring 375 others.
Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Nick Zieminski and Sonya Hepinstall